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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden, vying for Hispanic voters in Nevada, says Trump ‘despises Latinos’

President Joe Biden sits with attendees during a campaign event at the El Portal restaurant in Phoenix, March 19, 2024. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs

President Joe Biden earlier this week began a tour through Nevada and Arizona by championing his economic policies and making a sharp-elbowed pitch to the crucial Hispanic electorate in the two battleground states, saying that former President Donald Trump, his Republican rival, “despises Latinos.”

Biden is seeking to use the trip this week through the Sun Belt to turn what polls have shown to be three of his biggest weaknesses — the economy, immigration and slipping support among Latinos — into strengths. The visit comes as the president has adopted an aggressive new tone as he opens the general election campaign against Trump.

As he traveled to Reno, Nevada, and Las Vegas on Tuesday, Biden made clear his campaign has its eye on Latino voters, who are increasingly gravitating toward Trump, recent polls have found.

“This guy despises Latinos,” Biden said in an interview with Univision Radio that aired Tuesday as he criticized Trump’s economic policies and proposals to launch mass deportations. “I understand Latino values.”

Biden’s remarks, among the most strident the president has made toward Trump on the subject, highlighted the fierce battle for an increasingly up-for-grabs voting bloc. And they illustrated the stakes for the president and his party if Latinos turn away from them, a shift that would threaten to unravel the diverse coalition that has delivered Democrats the White House, as well as a plethora of House and Senate seats, in recent years.

Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, accused Biden of caring more “about illegal immigrant criminals than American citizens.”

“President Trump will secure the southern border and deport illegal criminals to protect ALL American citizens,” Leavitt said in a statement.

Latino voters are particularly crucial in states such as Nevada and Arizona, where they make up roughly 1 in 4 eligible voters and where Biden won in 2020. But Trump has found support in the diverse Latino electorate, including among evangelicals and those focused on border security. He has appealed in particular to those without college degrees, an educational divide that has captured the attention of the White House.

Surveys show Trump winning more than 40% of Latino voters, a level not achieved by a Republican in two decades. Some polls even show Trump ahead of Biden among Latino voters after Biden won nearly 60% of their vote in 2020.

“People like to be entertained and sometimes Donald Trump, what he does is it provides that entertainment. People like laugh at his rallies, you know, it’s like they’re going to a circus,” Arizona Democratic Party chair Yolanda Bejarano told reporters in Phoenix on Tuesday. “We just need to be very, very focused and you know, make sure that Latinos understand exactly who Donald Trump is and what a danger he presents to us.”

Biden’s campaign aides believe they can contrast the president with his predecessor by homing in not just on issues such as abortion and the economy but also on what the president’s aides once viewed as a political vulnerability: immigration and the border. In a memo written by Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, his approach on immigration is listed as a primary way to “contrast on the issues that matter most to Western voters.”

In the interview with Univision, Biden attacked Trump’s comments saying migrants are “not people.” He also said Trump was to blame for encouraging Republicans to sink legislation that would have imposed sweeping restrictions at the southwestern border, partly to avoid providing Biden an election-year win.

“He says immigrants are ‘poisoning the blood’ of this country, separated children from parents at the border, caged the kids, planned mass deportations systems,” Biden said. “We have to stop this guy. We can’t let this happen. We are a nation of immigrants.”

While Biden has recently shifted his language around immigration to the right, he also emphasized his efforts to provide immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

John Tuman, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who focuses on the Latino electorate, said that was necessary in a state with voters interested in hearing about reforming the overall immigration system.

“It pays dividends politically to push immigration from the margins to the center,” Tuman said.

But Andrea Masnata, a 34-year-old Nevada resident who immigrated from Bolivia, said she and many Latino peers were not enthused with either candidate. She had also noticed Latinos increasingly becoming disengaged with the Democratic Party, said Masnata, the communications director for Make the Road Action in Nevada, a grassroots group of Latinos and other working-class people of color.

“It’s a clear statement of the disappointment the community has,” Masnata said, adding that many of her peers were concerned about grocery and housing prices, and the administration using immigration as a political talking point. “They know we have one option that is less threatening to our community, but they don’t feel backed by President Biden, either.”

Like the overall electorate in Nevada, Tuman said, Latino voters want to see progress on the economy, including job growth and lower housing costs.

Biden visited Washoe County, the home of Reno and Nevada’s lone swing county, where he said Trump would work to undo the Biden administration’s agenda. At the same time, his campaign kicked off a program called Latinos con Biden-Harris, which will organize Latino voters in battleground states with significant Hispanic communities, including Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. It will focus on Mexican Americans, Venezuelan Americans and Puerto Ricans.

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